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Jan 25, 2005

Sanctuary will protect manatees

Story PictureDespite a number of deaths and injuries from the increasing number of boats operating along the coast, Belize’s manatee population continues to thrive. And the survival of those fascinating creatures has been given some added assistance by the creation of a sanctuary in the waters between Belize City and the barrier reef. On Monday News 5′s Patrick Jones and George Tillett took to the sea for a look.

Patrick Jones, Reporting
The fifteen minute boat ride from Belize City brings the visitor into the middle of the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary for a rendezvous with one of the gentlest creatures of sea: the Antillean manatee, also known as sea cow.

Since last year, the United Nations Development Programme, through its global environment facility, has been disbursing a grant of seventy-nine thousand five hundred dollars to friends of Swallow Caye to introduce management measures at the Manatee Sanctuary.

These include establishment of a ranger station, purchasing of a boat for patrolling the protected area and installation of signs around the perimeter of the nine thousand five hundred acre park.

Lionel Heredia, President, Friends of Swallow Caye
?The purpose of the sign is to people who come here, se the signs and go by the rules of the signs. The reason why we are doing that is to protect sea grass for later on when the population is getting bigger and bigger so that the animals they have enough sea grass to eat.?

Lionel Heredia, who has dedicated his life to the conservation of the manatees, today received the second disbursement of twenty thousand dollars, which he says will be used to fund more of his organisations work of educating the public on the need to protect the endangered mammals.

Heredia says while most people have been complying with the new park rules, there is still some resistance.

Lionel Heredia
?Indeed we have a problem right now that over the other side, there is manatees and sometimes the patrol is there and they go there, see the manatees and then they go, so that they don?t pay. But then later on we are trying to get another boat, another engine with this money now that we get is to protect the other side.?

To do that, Friends of Swallow Caye say they intend to hire an additional ranger, acquire another boat and take the conservation message to schools in the hopes of impacting the next generation of conservationists.

Lionel Heredia
?I am a very strong person for natural resources. Because I think it?s important that a country protect its own natural resources for the other generation. Because I was lucky to born in 1929, the seventh of July and I see what was there and today when I go there people ask me and I say seventy percent is already gone. And I think it?s very important for more Belizeans to get, this is just a picture. If they do not take a picture of this thing here well then…I can?t do better.?

It?s a labour of love, and while he continues to give it his all, the conservation work has started to take its toll on the seventy-five year old caretaker.

Lionel Heredia
?I think I want a manager. Sometimes my hair can?t go greyer than it already is. Some days I wish somebody occult take care and I just observe the work of what it is. Because it?s something that is not like the hire you and you go and do a job and you will win so much money. This is not. I have to get up every morning seven o?clock fix the patrol to come here, see that it has gas, see that these things be checked, and see that the oil is there. I mean, if I never love those animals; some days I go home and I tell my wife I say look I am not going there anymore. But I love them and I want to finish my job.?

Patrick Jones, for News 5.

Non-Belizean visitors to the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary pay ten dollars, while Belizeans pay only two dollars.

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